If you aren’t feeling optimistic about Manchester United’s prospects over the next few years, then you must be the eternal pessimist. Either that or you’re a staunch subscriber to those theories espoused by Alan Hansen.
Of course, it’s all too easy to get too carried away too early, and sometimes it’s best to remain level-headed and temper our lofty expectations, but f*ck it, enjoy the excitement. If Manchester City can get giddy about becoming FA Cup “champions,” United fans are entitled to be excitable about this third bunch of bouncing Busby Babes that deserve to be knighted.
Indeed, the youthful swagger and dynamism evidenced by this second coming of the “Fergie Fledglings” coincides with my renewed zest for the beautiful game. A fourth generation Mancunian born and (b)red, I was one of those fortuitous United fans to be initiated into an unprecedented era of dominance and subsequent riches. I have vague recollections of attending games at the Theatre during the late 1980s with my late grandfather to witness us take on the mighty Brighton & Hove Albion, or play out scrappy FA Cup quarter-finals.
But in reality, by the time I was fully able to coherently relay the concept of offside, and conclude that Ryan Giggs’ ‘ma was a MILF, United was well on its way to reassuming the mantle as one of the greatest club sides in world football. Ever since, we’ve been spoilt and have become complacently-accustomed to that rare commodity known as greatness.
Everyone within a two-mile radius of M16 (even the girls) has a hard-on at the moment, and rightfully so. The bounce of the team has spilt out onto the Warwick Road, and there’s a palpable buzz about the place. You can’t beat the feeling of rocking up to Old Trafford with an air of tangible confidence that befits a Nani backflip. We are being treated to some champagne football. And not that expensive shite you imbibe, which tastes mediocre and whose extortion pains your very existence with every sip. Our champagne footy isn’t akin to mcfc’s (I can never bring myself to write that acronym in upper case) overpriced Cava.
Success is always the ultimate benchmark at Old Trafford, and we have never adhered to the old Arsène Wenger mantra of “we must play a beautiful brand of football irrespective of the result”, but I must confess that I’m
revelling in being the team over which all the pundits purr. It’s very satisfying. Nani’s first at Wembley in the Community Shield – it would have indeed proven a very charitable act had we let City become Community Shield “champions” after embarrassing them for 90 minutes – was the stuff of unrealistic pipedreams, and Anderson’s against Tottenham Hotspur was equally as fairy-tale-esque. And what about the petulance of Ando’s scooped flick-assist for Danny Welbeck’s first against Arsenal? From the sand of Rio de Janeiro’s idyllic beaches to the grass of Manchester’s utopian fields, beach soccer momentarily transposed 6,000 miles before our very eyes.
I always remember my dad saying back in ’93, “savour this son, it doesn’t happen very often.” At the time, as a naïve ten year old, those words were but a mere backdrop to Eric Cantona’s third at Carrow Road in ‘93, but they now reverberate around my mind. I’ve never enjoyed footy as much as the 92-95 era, even when we have been winning all the spoils. Obviously we have been hugely successful, and have been privileged to some immense talent and European joy (’99, of course, was epic) but I’ve never witnessed that same fluidity, pace, sheer unpredictability, and raw dynamism since the time Giggsy, Andrei Kanchelskis, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Eric and Mark Hughes used to terrorise teams into a stupor, and ultimately, submission. I remember Giggsy’s first at Carrow Road, a move in which we had so many men bursting forward with intent that four players were in prime position to tap in that goal.
The most vividly grotesque, yet simultaneously fitting analogy for this current exhibition of football is like watching “flies to shit,” and red-arsed flies at that, with players buzzing around at multiple different interchanging angles, a swarming reminiscent of that ‘92-93 team, which attacked in their droves like missiles simultaneously diverging from, and converging upon, the enemy’s goal. It’s a wonder to behold.
And what’s special about this present collective of precocious talent is their diversity? Everyone is quick to pinpoint the English backbone to the youthful vibrancy, but lest we forget the foreign contingent that also enhances the side. What’s unique to this cohort of young men, as opposed to the original Busby Babes or the “Fergie Fledglings,” is that we are witnessing a veritable ensemble of international prodigies.
Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, and Wayne Rooney are perfectly complemented by their foreign counterparts in David de Gea, Nani, Anderson, Javier Hernández and the Da Silvas. English directness and tenacity supplemented with foreign flair and panache. Some would even deem it the ideal hybrid.
The Busby Babes, whilst positively beautiful, didn’t boast any samba jigs. Indeed, Bobby Charlton’s celebratory movements wouldn’t have been attuned to a samba beat. The Fergie Fledglings, whilst fantastic, didn’t showcase any capoeira backflips. Indeed, David Beckham never attempted any double somersaults. So, United, imbued with an added sprinkling of the exotic, appears an even more delightful proposition.
Soon we will be supping Açaí superfruit shakes to accompany our chips ‘n’ gravy as we stroll along the Sir Matt Busby Way. It’ll feel like walking down the Copacabana beach, with all the s(h)and(y) at our feet. Lou Macari’s chippy might start diversifying its culinary offerings, and serve some ‘chorizo’ and ‘patatas bravas’ instead of the time-honoured sausage and chips. It’s that healthy balance of which government bodies constantly inform us, and which evidently also applies to the footy field.
Yet again our beloved Sir Alex proves he’s a genius. Yet again, Sir Alex rejuvenates and redesigns a successful squad into possessing the ability of ushering in another prosperous period. Yet again, Sir Alex substantiates statements that he might very well be the best to ever do it. And who would bet against SAF to decipher the indecipherable conundrum that is Barcelona FC? Who would wager against a United resurgence to the zenith of club football? It might take a few more years, require a few more acquisitions and necessitate a spot of lady luck. But we have time, appeal and that certain “je ne sais quoi” to do it.
Following on from the dejection of last May, exacerbated by the justifiably-elated Catalans as they flamencoed down the Wembley Way, the future once again looks bright, the clouds once again appear to have a silver(ware) lining, and the red moon is rising. Originally, I thought the key was to emulate Barcelona’s style of play, but United too, are one of the world’s finest exponents of the beautiful game, and we shall conquer in our own fashion.
What’s even more encouraging from a Red’s perspective is the plethora of prodigious potential that underpins the club, in the shape of budding hopefuls spearheaded by the triumvirate of Paul Pogba, enfant terrible Ravel Morrison and Ryan Tunnicliffe. So when the noisy neighbours claim that the Premiership is becoming a two-horse race, always rest assured that United is a glorious thoroughbred, rich in decades of yielding classic winners, whilst mcfc is but a glorified carthorse that distinctly lacks pedigree and class.
So as my old man once told me, my only words of advice would be to savour these next few seasons, I have a feeling they’re going to be pretty special. And please utter those infamous words again Hansen. You know, the ones that not only came back to bite you on the arse, but also removed one of your saggy Scouse buttocks. Go on, I dare you.
Jonathan Shrager can be found at United We Stand and on Twitter – twitter.com/jonathanshrager
This article originally appeared in Rant Monthly Issue 2, September 2011. For this and other fine articles download Issue 2 here.